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1990 Jeep Wrangler YJ - Rekindled

The Road To A V-8 YJ

Bill Barnett is a longtime Jeep fanatic. He bought a brand new CJ-5 Golden Eagle in Reno, Nevada, back in 1979. As his family grew, there wasn't enough space in the '5. Diapers and little league took priority over lockers and mud terrains. Fast forward to 1998 when Bill was attending an RV show in Colorado. He saw a booth for the Colorado Association of 4Wheel Drive Clubs, and that was all that it took to rekindle his love for Jeeps. He has since joined the Colorado Go-4s and owned a CJ-7, a stretched TJ, and the monster YJ shown here.

The stock frames on YJs are fully boxed and far more robust than the frames found on Barnett's previous CJs. Still, the rear section of the frame behind the seats was replaced with round tube by Bob Appleby to provide more uptravel for the rear suspension. The leaf springs were tossed to make room for a triangulated four-link used in conjunction with 16-inch travel 2.5-inch diameter Sway-A-Way coilovers and 250- over 300-pound coil springs with tender springs on top. A Currie Anti-Rock sway bar assists the coilovers and provides stability on the street and the trail. The upper links are 1.5-inch 0.250-wall DOM tubing, while the lowers are constructed from 1.75-inch 0.375-wall DOM since they see more abuse in the rocks. All of the links are fitted with 5/8x3/4-inch FK rod ends. Similar components are used up front, although the suspension utilizes links which are parallel to the frame and a panhard bar to control lateral movement. The original panhard bar ripped a hole in the frame, so Damian Layer at Ground Control 4x4 plated the frame and constructed a bombproof mount to stand up to the stresses of rockcrawling.

Rocks aren't the only cause of stress to the suspension, as it is tasked with controlling huge 42-inch bias-ply Super Swamper IROKs wrapped around polished 17x8.5 Walker Evans beadlock wheels. The bias-ply Swampers are actually surprisingly light for their size, and stick well to the rocks found in Colorado and Utah. Their 14-inch width also keeps the beautiful Walker wheels away from the rocks, although that is more of a cosmetic benefit than anything else.

Barnett originally swapped out the 4.2L engine for a small-block equipped with aftermarket fuel injection. After trying a variety of different systems and spending a small fortune on tuning, he bought a 350 Ram Jet crate engine from Burt Chevrolet and never looked back. A Novak radiator keeps the V-8 cool, even when idling all day on the trail. Power is routed through a fully-built Art Carr TH350 fitted with a reverse manual valvebody and Art Carr gated shifter. From there the torque is split by an Advance Adapters Atlas II transfer case with 32-spline outputs and a 3.8:1 low range.

The beef continues downstream in the form of Dana 60 axles with a 5-on-5 1/2 bolt pattern. The full-width front axle was sourced from a Dodge pickup and is filled with Yukon 35-spline chromoly axle shafts, CTM U-joints, an ARB Air Locker, 4.88 Yukon gears, and a Dynatrac diff cover. The five lug outers are used in conjunction with 3/4-ton Chevy brakes and Dynatrac hubs. The brakes are controlled by a Navajo master cylinder and a dual-diaphragm brake booster from Off Again Off Road, but Barnett has plans to add a Vanco hydroboost system in the near future. Poison Spyder Customs steering arms mount on top of the knuckles and put the tie rod up high out of harm's way.

The PSC single-ended hydraulic ram is even better protected, as it is up high and entirely behind the axle center line. The ram works in conjunction with a PSC steering box and pump. The rear axle is a custom high-pinion Dynatrac Pro Rock Dana 60. It sports 35-spline semi-floating chromoly axle shafts, a Detroit Locker, 4.88 gears, and Explorer disc brakes. No need to carry spare parts in the Jeep with this potent drivetrain combination, and that's good because there isn't a surplus of storage space.

Body And Interior
The body tub wasn't dovetailed or boat-sided, but more room was required to accommodate the huge tires and 103-inch extended wheelbase. The rear tires were pushed back 6 inches to afford greater stability. This required the rear fenders to be cut all the way back to the tailgate and the fuel tank was replaced with a custom 20-gallon unit that sits at the rear of the Jeep in front of the CJ tailgate. The remaining rear sheetmetal was covered with TNT corners and custom rocker guards to keep from being dented. The fuel cell shares space with a 10-gallon Powertank and a custom six-point rollcage designed and built by Bob Appleby at the now defunct Colorado Custom Crawlers. The cage work also encompasses the front seats that were sourced from a Dodge Neon and enveloped with Wet Okole seat covers to protect them from the elements.

The front axle was also relocated to stretch the wheelbase and deliver an increased approach angle. Custom tube fenders stave off rocks and allow additional tire clearance, while the lack of inner fenders help to keep the small-block running cool. A Warn 9500i winch wrapped in Rockstomper synthetic winch line resides between the fenders and can be affixed to the front axle to preload the suspension for vertical climbs. To preload the rear suspension for descents, a smaller Warn ATV winch is mounted on the rear axle.

Good, Bad, And What's It For
The big YJ has no problem climbing up all the ledges that Moab had to offer, but the full-width axles, while providing stability, make it difficult to maneuver through tight obstacles. Barnett even took us for a ride at freeway speeds, which is a much better indicator of a vehicle's suspension and steering geometry than crawling in low-range. Even with a flexible suspension and aired down IROKs the Jeep went down the road straight. Typically you have to trailer a Jeep that is this heavily-modified, but the ability to do trails like the Rubicon with different start and end locations is a great benefit. We wouldn't want a daily driver on 42s but the option to drive it on the street is nice.

Hard Facts
Vehicle: '90 WranglerEngine: GM Ram Jet 350Transmission: Art Carr GM TH350Transfer Case: Advance Adapters Atlas IISuspension: Four-Link With Coilovers (front and rear)Axles: Dodge Dana 60 (front), Dynatrac Pro Rock 60 (rear)Wheels: 17x8.5 Walker Evans BeadlockTires: 14/42-17 Super Swamper IROKBuilt For: Pulling out stuck Go-4s

Why I Featured It
I spied Barnett's Jeep when I was in Moab, a month after Easter Jeep Safari. Since I was on vacation I wasn't really interested in shooting photos or working, but the YJ was too clean to pass up. Barnett was staying at the same campground as me and after I introduced myself he and his fellow Go-4s were quick to invite me on a run to do Pickle. Since I had never been on this trail before, they made me an offer I couldn't refuse.